So you’re wondering what to expect now that your cat is expecting? You’ve come to the right place! This blog should leave you feeling comforted that you can thrive at taking care of your new litter of kittens – it’s not as daunting as you might think.

There is something extremely rewarding about raising kittens from birth and the process is exciting. So without further ado let’s delve into how to take care of your anticipated baby moggies.

The Birth:

Feline pregnancy usually lasts around 63 days, or somewhere in the region of 59-70 days, from the time of mating. Most queens (which is to say, a female cat) are naturally very good at the whole birthing process and will give birth unassisted – a bit of relief for you on that front! Some specific breeds like Persians and Orientals have a slightly increased chance of requiring intervention. If this is something that you are a little nervous about, then it could be helpful to have a chat with your vet about it. 

There will usually be between 2 and 8 kittens in a litter, with 4 being the average. Each kitten will weigh around 100g depending on the breed. This will normally double in the first week or so and then increase steadily afterwards. In fact, it can be useful to monitor your kittens’ weights to ensure they are thriving and growing as expected.

The mother’s maternal instinct is usually great and you’ll see her licking the kittens a lot to dry them off and using her body heat to keep them warm. You could also provide some blankets or covered heat pads to help keep the little ones nice and toasty. But avoid uncovered hot water bottles or heat pads, as newborn skin burns really easily.

The first few weeks:

You will notice that the kittens will have both their eyes and ear canals closed at birth – this is completely normal and nothing to worry about. Kittens can smell and also feel pain from day 0 but it will usually take a week or 2 for the eyes and ears to open. Hearing coming in at around a week-and-a-half to 2 weeks after birth and sight between 2 to 3 weeks. Tooth eruption will also start around the 2-week mark. Knowing these landmarks can be useful, as there will be lots of physical changes taking place in this early stage.

For the first 2 weeks, the kittens will spend a lot of time sleeping and eating and not do much more than this. Up until 3 or 4 weeks, they will be entirely dependent on their mother for nursing and for milk, but they will also become increasingly keen to explore developing their senses and moving around more.

Mother’s milk is a key factor in the health and wellbeing of new-borns. 

For the first 2 days, the mother produces a thick yellow milk called colostrum. This is nutritious and also contains antibodies, which increase the kittens’ abilities to produce an immune response, until their own immune system kicks in. After this point, around 125ml a day of a thinner and whiter milk is produced by the mum until weaning time.

You can tell which kittens are well fed by feeling their stomach, which should be nicely full. A good indicator too is their behaviour. Restless, crying kittens may be hungry, so try to encourage suckling by holding them closer to the teats so they can drink.

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Sometimes the mother is unable to produce enough milk. In these cases, try increasing the amount of food you give her, as lactation requires a lot of energy. If she is still not producing enough then you may need to partially or fully hand-rear the kittens. If you suspect that this is the case then talk to your vet and they can point you in the right direction in terms of appropriate milk substitutes and how to do this properly.

From around 3 weeks you can start to provide a shallow litter tray to encourage toilet training. This they should pick up quite easily by observing mum, but you can also help to encourage if they are struggling. Mum will often stimulate them to defecate, and this is something you’ll have to pick up if, sadly, you end up rearing orphaned kitties.

Weaning:

You can start to provide soft kitten food from around 4-5 weeks, which is the beginning of the weaning period. You may also notice Mum hunting for prey for the kittens at around the same time if she has outdoor access. The kittens will start drinking less and less milk. You should gradually increase the amount of food provided and offer it on a regular schedule. This can help you keep on top of which kittens are eating and how much.

Slowly increase the amount of specially designed hard kitten food that you introduce alongside the soft. If all goes well, the kittens will be eating entirely hard foods by around 6-8 weeks.

Development:

From 2 to 8 weeks the kittens will experience lots of new things and gain a lot of life skills, mainly learned from their mother. Things they will learn include walking, toileting, playing, exploring the surroundings, hunting, interacting with each other, grooming. The key behaviours that shape a cat’s personality.

This time is also the key ‘sensitisation period’ for the kittens to learn about interacting with humans. If kittens were to have no interactions with humans at this point, or if indeed they were to have negative experiences, then this would negatively influence their behaviour around humans into adulthood. So it is vital that the kittens gain positive experiences with a variety of humans early on. Try playing with them, stroking them and talking in gentle voices around them.

Preventative Healthcare:

Parasites present a risk to kittens, due to their small size and underdeveloped immune system. It is therefore recommended to get your kittens treated with flea and worming treatments by a vet when they are around a month old.

This will also be an ideal time to discuss vaccinations with your vet – normally kittens will get their first set at around 2 months old. The 4 main cat vaccines in the UK are those for Cat Flu, Feline Infectious Enteritis, Feline Chlamydophila and Feline Leukaemia Virus.

If you do not intend to breed from your kittens in the future, then it is also recommended to neuter them before puberty at around 4 months old. This can prevent a lot of health issues later in life, reduce negative behaviours and prevent unwanted pregnancies for females. Neutering can be another very useful thing to discuss with your vet.

Rehoming:

If you plan to rehome some or all of your kittens, the usual times for doing this are around 9 weeks for domestic short/ long hairs or around 13 weeks for pedigree kittens. By this time the kittens should have matured enough both physically and socially to be content moving to a new home. It may be worth looking into pet insurance for your little ones at around this stage for peace of mind too.

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So there you have it – a basic guide on how to take care of your new furry bundles of joy. Queens usually have great maternal instincts, which of course makes the job a lot easier for you as a pet owner. Armed with this extra knowledge, the process should be smooth and rewarding. You and your soon-to-be mother cat will smash it!

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